I was on the fence racing Okemo on Saturday. I had multiple invites to long rides tugging at me. Mid-week training sat heavy in my legs. Okemo is not one of my benchmarking climbs (more on that in a minute). I missed the Wednesday pre-reg cutoff. Day-of registration was expensive. But... a lot of cool people do these things. You won't find typical roadie attitude at a hillclimb event. You will find daughters lining up with dads. You will also find a full spectrum of serious athletes.
Most readers know it was hot this weekend. The race went off at 10:30am and goes up the east facing slopes of the mountain. Thus things had many hours to bake in the sun. The first 3-4 miles of the course is in full sun. I fare worse than most under these conditions. Climbing is fun though. I feel most alive when I'm suffering.
All 100+ riders went off in single wave. These situations always make me nervous. Many hillclimb racers don't have a lot of pack racing experience. Tendencies are to panic and grab fist-fulls of brake. The race starts "neutral" through a double chicane dropping down from the Jackson Gore village to Rt 103. This was not a problem for those of us in the front row with lots of experience. Once on Rt 103, we had use of full lane plus wide shoulder for two miles.
Okemo doesn't make a good benchmarking climb because of the variability in the neutral start and pack dynamics on the two mile lead-in to the climb. Nobody was willing to toe the line here, except for one rider. Kurt Schmid (CCB) bolted clear with Marti Shea (Destination Cycling) in tow. Marti has been dominating the women's BUMPS field for a few years now. I suspected this move was choreographed, like when Tom Danielson had someone help him break the Mt Evans course record. Everybody sat up and I got swarmed with all sorts of sketchiness going on around me. I managed to get back up front, but Kurt and Marti were gone. I didn't want to kill myself to bridge up, as I would no more than catch them than we'd hit the base of the climb, which kicks up to something like 15% immediately. Kurt and Marti had at least 15 seconds on the rest of us by the time they turned up. Brilliant, I thought.
Greg Larkin and Jeff Johnson where there, guys I needed to keep tabs on and good guys to pace with to avoid going out too hard. Erik Vandendries (545 Velo) was there too, who I expected to pull away from me at some point. I knew if I got ahead of Erik, I was going out too hard.
Kurt promptly fell back after bringing Marti to the climb. Tim Ahern, the men's points leader, began closing the gap on Marti. Things quickly sorted out, as they always do in a hillclimb. Sue Schlatter passed me and pulled away with Erik. I settled into 6th place for most of the climb.
The heat was oppressive. I was just waiting for the engine overheating light to go on. Almost no air movement. Unzipped jersey didn't help. About 75% of the way up, I caught John Cico. I struggled mightily to pass him and keep him behind me. I was fifth to cross the line. I was hoping to finish under 32 minutes but went over 33 minutes. Chalk it up to not tapering and heat. Turns out everybody's times were slower than expected. I felt I raced well and was not too disappointed.
Sue came within a few seconds of Marti. Had Sue caught the break at the start, the women's outcome would have been different. Erik just squeaked in ahead of Marti. Tim and Erik were the only two men to stay ahead of these women.
Some guys have delicate egos and don't handle getting "girled" very well. Most of the guys here not only got girled, they got mommed, as Sue once reminded me. I got a kick out of that one. There's no honor lost in finishing second to Marti or Sue. They both have palmares that could put some pro tour riders to shame.
After the race I caught up with Kurt, who lead Marti out to the climb. His leading Marti out was not planned. There was a tail wind, yet nobody was willing to wind things up, so he just went. Marti just happened to be there and recognized an opportunity. Hmmm, I notice Marti and Kurt are both from Marblehead. Another coincidence?
The Okemo event is well staffed and organized by the Ludlow Rotary Club. A superb meal of grilled chicken, beef and veggie burgers, with fruit and full array of homemade baked goods is provided at awards. The Okemo hillclimb is a non-intimidating event for first timers or family members to try. Aftwards, JoeyB, IsaacO and I enjoyed a nice loop over Tyson Rd to make the day complete.